What does an epidemiologist say about 2020?

My friends and family have asked me this question since the start of the pandemic. This is not surprising since I have a PhD in epidemiology. I must admit I did not specialise in viruses. In contrast, I studied chronic diseases throughout most of my career. Currently, I focus on research for cancer, cardiovascular disease, immunology and fibrosis. However, I have a keen interest in how the pandemic unfolds, personally and professionally. So I will share my opinion on the pandemic so far. This is only my opinion, and not an official analysis of facts.

Is this pandemic really happening?

The scientific aspect of a pandemic is fascinating to an epidemiologist. I never thought I would experience one in real life. Unsurprisingly, I’ve read factual and fictional books about the plague, Spanish flu, cholera and more. These books were always dramatic and suspenseful! Now, even with my background, the Covid-19 pandemic continues to develop in ways beyond my imagination. From curfews to national lockdowns to restricting international travel. Of note, the high levels of international travel, that many of us were accustomed to, ensured the rapid spread of the virus worldwide.

Early responses to the pandemic

Early on in the pandemic, I was disappointed to hear some government guidance that did not rely on science. One example was a UK decision to rely on herd immunity without enough information about the virus. Was it even certain that people would gain long-term immunity after recovering from the virus? And what about mutations? This strategy was quickly reversed. Another infamous example was a world leader recommending unproven treatments (hydroxychloroquine), which led to the deaths of some who followed the advice.

Trust the science

Since those early days, there is increasingly more scientific information available for consideration. Critical decisions about slowing the spread of the virus are now assisted by more facts and knowledge. I am still uncertain which strategy has succeeded, herd immunity or lockdowns? Finally, several much-anticipated vaccines have been approved across the world. Now the questions are: Do they work? How long will the protection last? Will they be effective against variants?

Balancing Health and the Economy

However, governments have the difficult task of trying to balance the general health of the population and the economic downturn. There is no easy answer and the pandemic has become very personal. By now, everyone I know is close to someone who has been very ill. Sadly, most people I know have also lost a loved one to Covid-19.

What I have been doing to cope

Through all of the ups and downs of the past year, I generally feel okay. Maybe not quite amazing but… okay. I have found new activities to do at home, and I miss travel less than I thought I would. Of course, I still look forward to future travels!

Here is a list of some of what I’ve been doing:

  • Cooking and baking – obviously most of us are doing that, which led to flour and sugar shortages for months
  • Zoom calls with family and friends
  • Hosting online meet-ups for French and English language exchange
  • Learning how to make origami
  • Making art out of corks
  • Organising my online photo albums
  • Exercising daily- never had time to do that before
  • Reading books
  • Attending online events including music festivals, cooking courses, wine tasting, a skating competition, and a ninja training course
  • And finally creating a travel blog, which had been on my to do list for years!

Now what?

Despite all of the challenges during the pandemic, I believe most people are just trying to do their best during uncertain times. Many are struggling with their mental health due to different types of stress, including isolation. Is mental health the next pandemic we should be worried about? Even with the mental and emotional strains, I have seen some amazing acts of kindness from fellow humans, which give me hope. Looking forward, I hope we can all draw on the strength and creativity that we never knew we had before 2020! And let us use that to help each other as much as we can. Then, when the time is right we shall be brave enough to travel and explore the world again.

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